SEATTLE — Mariners fans have waited longer than any supporters in North America for a return to the post-season.
General manager Jerry Dipoto is asking Seattle to wait a little bit more.
Dipoto continued a whirlwind reshaping of the Mariners' roster Monday by sending Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to the Mets and Jean Segura, James Pazos and Juan Nicasio to Philadelphia. In exchange, Seattle received a bundle of prospects and freed up significant salary space for after the 2020 season.
"This is what a reset looks like," Dipoto said.
Dipoto believes the flurry of moves he's made in the past few weeks can get the Mariners into contention by 2021, calling the strategy a "step back" rather than a rebuild, even though it could take longer than a couple of seasons for Seattle to return to relevancy.
The Mariners have been the busiest team in baseball, making wholesale changes to begin the off-season. Salary and experience are being swapped for youth and hope, with an eye on opening a competitive window when the American League's current superpowers — including AL West-rival Houston — may finally take a step back.
Patience is a big ask from a fan base that hasn't seen the playoffs since 2001, the longest post-season drought in North American professional sports. That streak is almost certain to continue for a few more seasons, although Dipoto doesn't consider this to be a full tear-down.
"For those who have already determined that this is what ripping it down to the studs looks like, there's still quite a way to go to do that. We still have fair bit of talent on this team," he said.
Still, there's a significant amount of talent that has left Seattle in the past few weeks.
Cano and Diaz — gone to the Mets.
Segura, Nicasio, Pazos — gone to Philadelphia.
James Paxton — gone to the Yankees.
Alex Colome — gone to the White Sox.
Mike Zunino, Guillermo Heredia — gone to Tampa Bay.
Many of those moves were expected. Seattle figured to shed salary and try to get younger after finishing third in the AL West despite an 89-73 record.
But this sell-off has left the roster almost unrecognizable. There are only two players remaining from the 40-man roster Dipoto inherited in September of 2015— Kyle Seager and Felix Hernandez.
The decision to deal Diaz signals a change. The All-Star closer could have been a core part of the future, along with Mitch Haniger and Marco Gonzales. Instead, he was used to get Seattle out from under a big chunk of Cano's remaining contract and pry two former first-round picks away from the Mets. That move means this "reset" is going deeper than originally planned.
"This is mostly what we anticipated doing. I say mostly because we didn't anticipate moving Robbie Cano and as a result we didn't anticipate moving Edwin," Dipoto said. "But the rest of it is much by design and as I can't say we're completely done yet I think most of the heavy lifting is done."
Seattle was stuck in a strange baseball purgatory — not good enough to catch the AL's elite, but with big money tied up in veterans who just propelled the team to 89 wins. It wasn't sustainable going forward, leading to the decision to make such a drastic shift.
The prospects Seattle landed Monday — outfielder Jarred Kelenic and right-handed pitchers Justin Dunn and Gerson Bautista from the Mets; and shortstop J.P. Crawford from the Phillies — can all end up playing a major role in Seattle's future success. Seattle also got veterans Jay Bruce, Carlos Santana and Anthony Swarzak.
Those young players come with risk, and the shift has to be sold to a fan base that's been eroded during this post-season drought and must accept it will likely be a few more years before that becomes a possibility again.
"The payroll we have pulled back can be better purposed when we get to our open window. We didn't really make the 2019 team any cheaper," Dipoto said. "But we made the 2021, 2022 teams considerably more flexible with these deals and that's a part of the idea to put ourselves in position where our young players are out there on the field ... that team can be augmented by the free agent market for what we would view the free-agent market as, which would be to finish a team not to build one."
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